21.1. Understanding SharePoint
No, it's not hipster slang for the latest knitting technique. SharePoint is a server-based program that helps groups of people collaborate , letting them share information and documents through a centralized Web site.
SharePoint is a bit of an oddity: Even though it's one of the fastest growing products in Microsoft's history, most ordinary people have never heard of it, and even its longtime fans have a difficult time describing what it actually does. Fortunately, the basic idea behind SharePoint is pretty straightforward. First, your team gets together and sets up a SharePoint Web site. This site is hosted on a server computer on your company's network. As part of the setup process, you decide who is allowed to access the site and what they'll be allowed to do.
Tip: Ordinarily, your SharePoint server isn't reachable over the Internet, but if you want people to be able to work from home, you can change that toojust talk to an Internet hosting company.
Once your SharePoint site is set up, every team member can access it. The login process is simplejust fire up Internet Explorer, and then surf to the team site. Ordinarily, you don't need to supply user name and password information, because Internet Explorer automatically logs you in using your current user account (whatever you used to log in to the network when you booted up your computer and started the day). However, if you need to use a different user account to access the SharePoint server, Internet Explorer will pop up a login box when you visit the site. (Network administrators are a great help when sorting out issues like these.)
When you get to the site, you see a customizable page that summarizes recent news, upcoming events, and useful links (Figure 21-1).
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Figure 21-1. This example shows an ordinary SharePoint site without a drop of customization. You can navigate to the different areas using the panel on the left, or you can use one of the "Add" links (circled) to create a new announcement, appointment, or link. If you add items, other team members can log in and see them.
Note: Microsoft uses thousands of SharePoint sites to coordinate its own teams , including the one that created Access.
21.1.1. What You Can Do in SharePoint
It doesn't take long to pick up the basic features in a SharePoint site. You can browse around a SharePoint team site as you would any other Web site.
Here are some things that SharePoint lets you do:
Keep an eye on important dates using the team calendar.
Post messages on a team discussion board.
Share Office documents in the Document Library (like reports you've written in Word and spreadsheets from Excel). Different people can supply edited versions, and team leaders can reject ones they don't like.
| FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION |
What's the deal with these other versions of SharePoint?
The version of SharePoint that's included with Windows Server 2003 is technically known as Windows SharePoint Services (that's WSS for the acronym lovers among us). You may have also heard about two products that seem suspiciously similar to Windows SharePoint Services:
Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server (called SPS by those in the know). This is a non-free product that extends what SharePoint Services is able to do. Its key features are ways to integrate different team sites, the ability to host personal sites for each team member, and its support for another Microsoft product, BizTalk, which can automate workflow in huge companies.
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (or MOSS). This is an update to SharePoint Portal Server. It plays the same role in life, but it has a little razzle- dazzle . It also adds the functionality that was previously sold separately as Microsoft Content Management Server.
This chapter focuses squarely on the SharePoint Services, which provides all the features that you'll use in Access.
Assign tasks to different people and find out when they're finished.
See a list of everyone who's on your team and send out emails.
Share links to useful Web pages.
Create and edit lists that store miscellaneous data (Figure 21-2). For example, you can use a list to store top customer complains that need to be addressed or the food items that employees are bringing to the company potluck.
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Figure 21-2. This example shows a SharePoint list that duplicates the infamous Dolls table from the Bobblehead database.
The last task is where Access comes into the picture. Even though you can create and manage a list of information in SharePoint through your browser, you may want to use that list in Access. Maybe you have a form, query, or code routine that needs to take that information into account. Or perhaps you're just more comfortable editing data in the familiar Access interface.
A SharePoint list is analogous to an Access table . Although both names refer to the same thing, a SharePoint list is more limited than an Access table. It doesn't support huge amounts of text or validation rules. And although it allows lookups, it doesn't let you use relationships to safeguard data.
What this means is that a SharePoint site doesn't provide a good place to store critical business information, like customer lists, product catalogs, and invoices. But it's well suited to informal lists and ad hoc scraps of information that you need to pass between colleagues. For example, SharePoint lists are fine for keeping a list of office phone numbers or a signup sheet for the company baseball team.
| UP TO SPEED |
Before you can create a SharePoint site, you need to make sure you have the SharePoint Services software properly installed. The full setup process is beyond the scope of this book, so if you want to try it out, make sure you get the help of your friendly neighborhood network administrator.
Here are few guidelines to help you get ready:
The first thing you need to use SharePoint is a computer that's running Windows Server 2003. If you've got the latest edition (known as Windows Server 2003 R2, for release 2 ), you already have all the bits you need.
If you don't have the latest release of Windows Server 2003, fear notyou're entitled to a free add-in that installs SharePoint Services. Point your web browser to www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/technologies/sharepoint to get the download you need. This site is also a great place to start if you need more information about SharePoint Services, or if you're troubleshooting a wacky problem.
The easiest way to install SharePoint is to run the Configure Your Server wizard, and choose the SharePoint Services role. This sets up your server by installing several key ingredients , including IIS (the software that transforms the computer into a Web server), and ASP.NET (the software that lets it run dynamic Web applications, like SharePoint sites). Additionally, if you don't have the full version of SQL Server on your computer, the Configure Your Server wizard installs a scaled-down version to use for storing SharePoint data.
If all this installation fiddling sounds like too much work (or if you don't have a company network to use), you may be interested in paying someone to host SharePoint for you. Firms are out there that will allocate a very small amount of space on a high- powered Web server to store your SharePoint lists, documents, and so on. Paying for this service costs about as much as paying a Web hosting company to host a business Web site. If it sounds tempting, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial that lets you use all the SharePoint features described in this chapter; see www.microsoft.com/technet/windowsserver/sharepoint/V2/techinfo/trial.mspx for the details.